New Jersey Department of Education

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Policy Initiatives

Frequently Asked Questions: English as a Second Language (ESL) Certification and the Highly Qualified Teacher Initiative

The following questions and answers provide guidance regarding the highly qualified teacher (HQT) status of high school ESL teachers. For further information, please e-mail questions to

Q. Must an ESL-certified teacher be certified in English language arts literacy (LAL) at the secondary level for students to receive credit toward graduation for English classes taken with the ESL instructor?

A. No. Teachers who are certified in ESL possess the appropriate knowledge to support the language arts learning needs of English language learners (ELL) by virtue of their preparation and certification as ESL teachers. It is entirely appropriate for ELL students who are receiving language arts literacy instruction from certified ESL teachers to receive English language arts literacy credit toward graduation for the coursework. There are content standards in ESL that are aligned to the state’s Core Curriculum Content Standards in language arts literacy (LAL). ESL classes are the most appropriate English language arts literacy instruction for ELL students. Credit should be awarded for these "English" classes just as it is for others.

Q. Must an ESL-certified teacher be certified in English language arts in order to be considered a HQT?

A. No. To be considered highly qualified, an ESL teacher must have at least a bachelor’s degree, a standard certificate as an ESL teacher and must demonstrate content-area expertise in ESL. Since there is no state test for ESL certification, teachers working at the middle/secondary level generally meet this third element by having either an undergraduate major in ESL (ESL, EFL, linguistics and English are all considered appropriate majors), or 30 credits equivalent to a major or a graduate degree in the content (ESL, EFL, linguistics or English).

ESL teachers who are providing direct instruction in English, language arts or reading to students at the elementary level also qualify as ESL teachers. ESL teachers who provide direct instruction in other core academic content areas (i.e., math, science, social studies) to elementary students must either hold certification as an elementary teacher or satisfy the HQT requirement for an elementary generalist. This means either passing the Praxis II Elementary Content Knowledge test or, for veteran teachers, accruing 10 points on the NJ HOUSE Standard Content Knowledge Matrix. It is important to note that only ESL teachers who are providing direct instruction in core academic content are required to satisfy the definition of a HQT. ESL teachers who provide consultation and support exclusively and are never a child’s only teacher of an academic content area are exempt from meeting the requirement.